Ubuntu is an ancient word from the Nguni Bantu people of South Africa which expresses a way of being that encompasses equality, equity and compassion for all. The rough translation is: human kindness, or, I am what I am because of who we all are. I personally understand it to mean that: together we support one another to sustain the earth for every living thing. Can you imagine a more perfect word or concept?
This practice of compassionate living has, until very recently, been embraced throughout human history; nearly all hunter-gatherer and egalitarian societies had a similar way of being. It even goes beyond anatomically modern humans, as there is now evidence that Neanderthals took care of one another, and researchers who study animal behavior say that non-human animals do this as well. When you sit quietly and really think about this philosophy it makes complete sense. If my neighbor isn't doing well, then in the end I will not be doing well either. If we support each other, together we are stronger than one individual.
Humans are social beings and we are biologically designed to share our knowledge and life experiences. It is the essential ingredient that allowed our ancient ancestors to survive. We all exist because of the core values that support Ubuntu.
In the past 100-150 years, this philosophy of egalitarianism and empathy has fallen by the wayside, or better yet, taken a back seat to the socially rewarded virtues of independence, rugged individualism, the ability to pull oneself up by the bootstraps, knowing how to play the game, ruthlessness, greed, dogged determination, discipline, self control, and will power.
Yes we “teach” kids to “share” in school, but at the same time the unspoken, subliminal message of inequality and selfishness is always there through standardized testing, familial connections, and other built in biases. Those who get good grades and learn how to maneuver through the complicated maze of judgment and competition are viewed as successful, superior, and better than the others.
This modern individualistic philosophy works for very few. Yes, there a some people at the very top of the pyramid who play the game really well and are rewarded generously. The people in the middle thought they understood the game, but became adults and realized they had been tricked into believing they had it all figured out. Then there are the masses on the very bottom who knew they never understood the rules, never fit in, and for the most part stopped trying. Basic survival takes all of their energy and is far more important than spending the time to learn how to spread their talents. All of their ideas, skills, and abilities are left to wither and die, before they have the opportunity to share them, therefore making all of society a poorer place. This is all a sad testament of our times.
I would like to argue that we can recapture the very spirit that allowed our humanness to evolve. In previous posts, I have suggested we each deliberately chose to embrace kindness, integrity, empathy, and honesty in all we do. With those intentions, we can create a world where everyone consciously supplements those individual, positive attributes with the all encompassing Ubuntu spirit. We can decide to practice this philosophy without hesitation. When we do, the health and happiness of our neighbors and the greater world becomes more important than our individual desires.
Sharing our knowledge, ideas, time, emotions, and resources will become an intrinsic part of our lives.
Ubuntu: “I am, because you are.” I can not be truly happy, unless you are happy.” Whatever you are is what I am.” “Whatever I have belongs to us all.”....
Instead if being undefinable, as Desmond Tutu suggested when he said, “it is a very hard concept to render into western language,” we can each have our own way of expressing this life affirming philosophy. Ubuntu--- How will you choose to live it?